Riverside, Illinois

I left the Beautiful tour for an open run of a new show called “Hit Her With The Skates” in Chicago. Written by my friends Christine Rea and her husband Rick Briskin, after 2 weeks of work I end up quarantined in the suburb of Riverside, Illinois. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, it was the first planned community in the US – designed in 1869 by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. Since they designed Central Park in NYC, it’s no wonder I feel strangely at home walking around here. I went to 4 classes at a place called Ahimsa Yoga just a few blocks away from my house and the classes just were not active enough. A cute place with a typically communal local flavor, but it was not excercise. Not really Yin Yoga which still feels like simply lying around to me – and I’ve tried 4 or 5 classes – but close. Luckily I bought a Groupon that gave me entrance to Corepower for half price for a month. Corepower is more like an exercise class with some yoga poses.- and some of them are extremely challenging. For the quarantine though, they have hundreds of online classes that are available for $19.99 a month – a very good price considering that many studios are offering Zoom classes at their regular rates. This brings to mind the plight suffered by recording musicians due to digital sharing sites. 

I have a few “home” studios – places I love – with great teachers and in general do not measure up to most of the studios I have encountered. But they are not that wonderful that I’ll pay $25 a class when I can get excellent classes for $20 a month or even free on Youtube. I’m completely unemployed and haven’t had any luck claiming unemployment. I’m pretty sure all those studios play music from Spotify playlists which means they are comfortable not paying for music……..now even as I write this the concept of “paying for music” seems as antiquated as “hey honey if you’re going out can you pick me up a newspaper?” ……paying for music now is really a donation…..like paying $25 for a Zoom class. 

During the first days of the new normal, I loved the quiet and am at first reminded of what Sundays used to be. Nothing was open. Families all together – and as I walk around here I am pleasantly surprised to see families sitting on their front porches. My imagined world of “the real America” is awakened – like the one that we’ll get to live in when we’re great again. When Hitchcock was scouting locations for “Shadow Of A Doubt,” he decided on Santa Rosa, California as the best image of the American dream. I’ve traveled to many cities large and small in this country and every once in awhile I’ll see a locale that evokes the perfect America. I guess I’m always subconsciously scouting that location which suggests – if not a perfect life – the best life possible – a balanced life – a life where people have time to sit on their porches and interact through a slower pace of life that is accessible from the front porch. Neighbors who are known pass by often – and those who perhaps live a bit farther away pass by but not quite as often – and of course the occasional stranger is sighted.

Sitting on the front porch is a sane and humane way to intrepret the outside world – even though it’s just a miniscule piece of it. It’s uniquely one’s own perspective. It’s that perspective you bought when you bought the house. Unless you live in that house, no one can see the world exactly as you do. It’s not the same view that the TV offers where everyone sees the big world through the eyes of the corporate media. That’s a shared view – a view easily discussed by everyone. But from the porch – what you learn and come to believe by sitting there is your own. The opening line of an opinion can often be “From where I’m sitting……”

The closest I’ve ever come to having a useful front porch was when I lived in a brownstone on the upper west side of NY. It had a wide stoop and it was a bit of a hang. More for others in the building than for me but it was enough of a perch – and many others in that area were designed similarly – that when I run into people from ‘the old neighborhood” – conversation flows easily. 

Seeing folks on their porch, I feel like I’ve missed out on something useful. In “Shadow Of A Doubt” it seems the family goes nightly to the porch after dinner. Pre TV era of course. But that amount of engagment to the outside world seems preferable – on a personal level – than the constant global consciousness available to us now. Newspaper, radio – seems like that should be enough news but sadly it isn’t. Tribalism, nationalism, still festers. We need to know. We are all one – a plattitude that sounds outlandish if you see the world mainly from the porch. But it’s the divisions that have hurt us. The luxury of simply being concerned with what’s outside one’s doorstep – well, maybe as I approach the age of 65 I can indulge.

But it’s not just the porches that awaken the past for me as I walk. Beautifully maintained old working class apartment buildings are interspersed with 2 family homes, majestic single residences and simpler cottages. No architectural uniformity remains in Riverside – well none compared to most suburbs – yet almost every block is pretty. I see mid century modern, (there are a couple of Frank Lloyd Wright homes) Georgian, Victorian, craftsmans, even some hacienda styles.

I wonder about the apartment buildings. They are old and remind me of the pre war structures in the Bronx – many of them exquisitely designed. In my earliest memories of the Grand Concourse from the late 1950’s, most buildings there were already dilapidated. But here they are picturesque and very well kept. What happened? What’s the difference? Was life in the Bronx that much harder that pride in one’s domicile was completely impossible? To a childish mind, the possibilty that the people who lived there were bad and wanted to live that way was considered and made the place pretty frightening. The idea that it was because the Bronx buildings were owned by slumlords with no regard for their tenants did not occur to me. And why were they constructed within inches of each other with no greenery in between? Here, and in the suburbs where I lived in the 50’s, the buildings seem to sit in gardens – competing with floral landscapes for attention.

In this area due west of Chicago, there are two train lines only about 2 miles north and south of each other. No bridges or trestles and traffic often backs up – even now when most businesses are shut down. Kind of frustrating but again, it’s just another example of a slower lifestyle. 

I’m approaching the age when some people retire from their careers and consider engaging in a slower lifestyle. Of course, very few musicians consider the option of retirement. Unless we are engaged in a regular run of a show or tour, there’s rarely any uniformity to our professional lifestyle. Although opportunities for employment have been greatly reduced over the past 10-20 years (notwithstanding the fact that musicians have ALWAYS complained that “it ain’t what it used to be” at least since the recording ban of the early 1940’s) – each area of work still has it’s own scene – in the past I’ve played clubs, weddings, corporate shows, cabarets, in recording studios with large orchestras or with small groups – now most recording is done by myself at home – and of course theater work from regional theater to Broadway smashes. It’s always been hectic and competitive and even when I’ve been able to relax and not be concerned with an upcoming performance or the necessity of maintaining my daily practice routine, I’ve never actually lived in a home where I could take an hour in the evening or afternoon and sit on the porch and watch the world go by. It’s easy to imagine that being able to do so is essential to living a full, satisfying life.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Beautifully written, Frank. I can so hear your voice as I read it, too. I think that’s one hallmark of a great writer! I enjoyed reading this.

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